In politics, the crisis game works like this: pet issues are turned into national concerns, which then become the object of study for social scientists. The media then substantiate the concerns by publishing the opinions of social scientists, and thus elevate the issue to the level of a crisis. Once concerns become crises, there are demands that something be done. These demands are quickly followed by legislative action that invariably leads to higher taxes, increased government regulation, a loss of liberty, and if the past is any indication, a remarkable increase in whatever was originally identified as a problem. Repeat the cycle.
First lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity her pet project. The media is full of reports on the dangers of childhood obesity, and the federal government is in full crisis mode.
There really is no secret to obesity. Obesity is the result of a poor diet and lack of exercise. The people most responsible for the diet and exercise habits of children are the children’s parents. Why should this concern the federal government? The answer is that obesity is a leading driver of healthcare costs. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the direct costs of obesity is $147 billion annually or 10% of medical costs. Those costs are expected to more than double over the next decade. As the federal government begins to pick up the tab for more and more of those costs they will also begin to demand a greater influence in what we eat and how much we exercise. Certainly, the fiscal health of the nation demands that government do something.
There is a bill currently making its way through the House of Representatives, ironically entitled, “The Healthy Choices Act,” which would establish regulations and fund programs aimed at reducing obesity rates by such means as putting nutritional labels on the front of food products, subsidizing businesses that provide fresh fruits and vegetables, and collecting Body Mass Index, (BMI), measurements of patients, and counseling those that are overweight or obese.
Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a 200 year-old scientific relic that is used to determine a person’s body fat. The BMI is calculated by taking a measurement of a person’s weight in pounds and height in inches, multiplying that number by the person’s height in inches, and then multiplying that number by 703. Any number over 24 is considered overweight.States receiving federal grants through the bill would be required to mandate that all health care providers in the state “determine the BMI of all their patients in the 2-to-18 year-old age bracket and then report that information to the state government. The state government, in turn, would be required to report the information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for analysis.”
No good can come from the government becoming the fat police, especially given that the BMI is an unreliable measure of body fat and thus a poor determinate of future health risks.
For instance, the BMI makes no allowance for the density of bones or the weight of muscle. Athletes and those with strong bones, good muscle tone, and low body fat tend to have high BMIs.
Just for fun, I went to the website for the National Institute of Health and entered the height and weight for Tim Tebow into the institute’s BMI computer. Tebow is a former Heisman Trophy winner, All-American football quarterback for the University of Florida Gators, and widely considered one of the best collegiate athletes of all-time. Coaches and sports writers have often commented on what an amazing physical specimen he is. According to Tebow’s BMI, he is obese.
I couldn’t find the necessary statistics on the first lady; so instead, I coaxed my wife into entering her information. According to the BMI computer my wife is of a “normal’ weight. There is no question that my wife is in terrific condition. I am a lucky man! However, she is in such terrific physical condition because she runs eight miles a day, lifts weights like a maniac, and eats nothing but lettuce. When she is really feeling daring she will even add dressing to her salad. And here is the point: The height and weight ratios associated with the BMI are unrealistic. More significantly, by itself the BMI offers very little information on the actual health and condition of the patient.
The bill also requires “HHS to share with Congress and other government officials, including the secretaries of education and agriculture, its analysis of the BMI data…”
The data would be analyzed in order to determine “obesity trends in regions of the United States and how those trends vary according to gender, and economic status.”
Can you see it yet? The disparate impact folks will have a field day. Black people are fatter than white people; women are fatter than men, and the poor are fatter than the wealthy. Clearly, the food industry responsible for making America obese is also racist, exploits the poor, and is at war with women’s health. We are in the midst of a crisis! Why isn’t the government doing something?
Fear not. The cavalry is speeding to our rescue.